The military on Sunday said it killed another commander in Hamas’s commando forces who led the murderous attacks on southern Israeli communities last weekend, as Israel moved to evacuate a border city ahead of the Israel Defense Forces’ expected ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
With the likely incursion looming, the IDF continued to urge Palestinians in northern Gaza to flee to the south of the coastal enclave while stressing its top priority would be rescuing the hostages held by terror groups since the October 7 onslaught launched by Hamas, in which terrorists killed over 1,300 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 150-200.
And Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed during a visit to an army base near the border with Gaza that the war against Palestinian terror groups would be “deadly” and permanently change the situation in southern Israel.
The IDF said Billal al-Qedra, the commander of the so-called Nukhba unit’s southern Khan Younis battalion, was killed in an airstrike following intelligence efforts by the Shin Bet security agency and Military Intelligence Directorate.
“He was responsible for the murderous raid in Kibbutz Nirim and Nir Oz,” the IDF said.
Several more Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in airstrikes overnight in the Gaza Strip, according to the military.
The IDF said it hit more than 100 targets overnight, including Hamas command centers, military compounds, dozens of rocket launchers, anti-tank missile launch posts and observation posts; and Islamic Jihad command centers.
מטוסי קרב של צה"ל, בהכוונה מודיעינית של שב"כ, חיסלו אמש ברצועת עזה את בילל אל קדרה, מפקד כוח נח׳בה בגדוד דרום חאן יונס של ארגון הטרור חמאס, שהיה אחראי על הפשיטה הרצחנית בקיבוצים נירים וניר עוז. בנוסף, חוסלו פעילים נוספים בארגון הטרור חמאס וכן בג'יהאד האסלאמי הפלסטיני>> pic.twitter.com/sKIKuDrQoF
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) October 15, 2023
Following a 12-hour lull, warning sirens blared in a number of southern towns Sunday morning, with a rocket launched from Gaza striking a home in Sderot and sparking a fire. There were no reports of casualties in the direct rocket strike, which came as the evacuation of residents from the southern city was set to begin.
The municipality emphasized that evacuation is not mandatory, but that it recommended that residents leave the area. Those leaving were being moved to hotels in Eilat and Jerusalem, and there was also a possibility of going to Tel Aviv.
There are estimated to be around 7,000 households in the town, according to the Ynet news site.
Last week authorities evacuated residents of the hard-hit Gaza-area communities devastated by Hamas gunmen.
In the south, Gallant said: “The war here is the war of light against darkness.”
He said the military “will eliminate the Hamas organization” because it is a “culture that does not accept our existence here — human savages, beasts who murdered our soldiers, our children, our citizens.
“We will reach all the tunnels, we will reach all the Hamas members, and as long as we have not eliminated them, we will not have completed the mission,” Gallant said.
Also visiting the south, President Isaac Herzog toured Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest-hit Israeli border communities in the murderous Hamas assault. Walking between the shattered and bloodstained buildings and homes where many residents were murdered by terrorists, Herzog said: “This land is soaked in blood. There was life here. This was a paradise that was turned into hell.”
But he promises that Be’eri will be “a paradise again.”
“Out of our grief, the tears, the terrible pain and the darkness in which this community finds itself, and all the surrounding communities, from here we say to the whole world: Nothing will break us.”
In the north, Metula has in recent days recommended that residents leave the town following several deadly attacks along the Lebanon border, including the launch of an anti-tank missile by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group on Sunday that killed at least one civilian.
Additionally, thousands more living in areas that have come under heavy rocket fire are thought to be displaced, moving to stay in parts of the country that are quieter.
In another incident Sunday morning, the IDF said troops killed a Palestinian terrorist in the kibbutz of Nir Am, near the Gaza border.
According to the military, the gunman was identified in the community, and infantry forces and tanks were dispatched to the scene.
After an exchange of fire, the terrorist was killed, the IDF said.
The New York Times reported that Israel plans to send 10,000 troops to capture Gaza City and “destroy” the Strip’s leadership, citing Israeli military officers who have spoken publicly.
The report said the offensive would be the largest since 2006’s Second Lebanon War and will see the IDF attempt to hold on to parts of Gaza, at least temporarily.
A Hamas official told the newspaper its fighters will try to ambush Israeli soldiers by popping out of tunnels behind their advance to surprise the troops.
According to the Israeli officials, the IDF’s rules of engagement were being eased so soldiers would be able to shoot at suspects more easily.
Troops will be particularly focused on killing Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said.
“That man is in our sights,” Hecht said. “He’s a dead man walking, and we will get to that man.”
Another IDF spokesman said the main focus in the military operation was to rescue the hostages, who were “most likely” being held underground.
Noting the “elaborate network of tunnels” in the Gaza Strip, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN those kidnapped by Hamas terrorists are “most likely held underground in various locations.”
“It is extremely difficult for any modern military to fight in such a dense urban area,” he said.
Conricus additionally said the IDF will not target civilians.
“But again, we must remember… we are going to fight a ruthless enemy that has no problems using everything available… civilians as human shields and using civilian infrastructure for military purposes,” he added.
Conricus also emphasized again that residents of northern Gaza should heed the warning to evacuate, with Israel set to begin “significant military operations.”
“The important thing here to focus on is that we will commence significant military operations only once we see that civilians have left the area,” he said.
“It’s really important that people in Gaza know we’ve been very, very generous with the time. We have given ample warning, more than 25 hours… I cannot stress more than enough to say now is the time for Gazans to leave,” he added.
The military strongly denied claims by Hamas and reported by international media outlets that Israel had struck convoys of Palestinians evacuating from the northern part of the Gaza Strip, killing over 70 people.
“This is a false report,” the IDF’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said during a press conference.
“The one making cynical use of their own citizens and taking them as human shields is Hamas,” Hagari said, accusing the terror group of spreading “manipulative fake information into the world’s ears.”
Since everyone is trying to use the Salah Al Deen Gaza Wadi bridge explosion tweet to cudgel each other with things I did not say, even using it to deny another strike 5 miles away, I am going to remake the entire thread here, super fucking clearly.
Here is the explosion. pic.twitter.com/BEcw0EXfIT
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) October 14, 2023
The Hamas-run health ministry said some 2,329 Palestinians have been killed as of Sunday and 9,042 have been wounded in Israeli retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza.
The IDF says it has killed some 1,500 Palestinian terrorists in Israeli territory after they breached the border fence and rampaged murderously in southern Israel.